Does Homeowner's Insurance Cover Natural Disasters?
Property insurance is needed for any situation where damage or loss of property is likely to be too expensive to cover out-of-pocket. Standard homeowners' insurance policies cover the most common types of damage to your home, like theft and fire, but natural disasters are typically not covered.
When renting or buying a home, consider whether your new home is located in a high-risk area for any of the following natural disasters:
- Hurricanes and tornadoes (wind damage)
- Lightning strikes
- Landslides, mudslides, or mudflows
As a result of climate change, these natural disasters are even more likely to occur. If you're a property owner or renter, it is wise to review your homeowners' insurance policy and the type of coverage it provides. This article discusses how natural disasters are covered by homeowners' insurance.
Living in High-Risk Areas
Generally, natural disasters are not covered under a standard home insurance policy. Homeowners living in high-risk areas have the option of purchasing supplemental disaster insurance to cover natural disasters. This specialty insurance costs more because of the increased risk.
Standard homeowners' policies only cover flood risks caused by plumbing failures, like leaking pipes. They specifically exclude flood damage from heavy rain, rivers or lakes overflowing their banks, coastal surges, or sneaker waves.
If you live in a flood zone, you can purchase a separate policy for flood protection. In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It allows homeowners in flood-prone areas to buy flood insurance through private insurance companies, backed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The cost of NFIP flood insurance coverage depends on the measures your community has taken to reduce the risk of flood damage. To learn more, see the National Flood Insurance Program Summary of Coverage.
Even if you don't live in a flood zone, you may want flood coverage. Some lenders require it.
Standard homeowners' insurance covers wind damage. Damage from tornadoes is typically covered as wind damage. Water damage caused when rain comes through a wind-damaged roof would also be covered.
Most Atlantic and Gulf Coast states are susceptible to hurricane wind damage. Standard policies do not cover the flooding that often follows storm surges from hurricanes. You must purchase flood insurance and/or special "beach and windstorm" insurance to protect your home.
Hurricanes cause billions of dollars in property damage. If your home is in a high-risk area, be sure to read the fine print on your insurance policy. Many insurance claim disputes hinge on how the terms "wind damage" and "flood damage" are defined by insurance providers.
Most standard home insurance policies cover hail damage to a roof, but damage can also occur to a home's siding, doors, and windows. In some states, insurance companies exclude what they consider "cosmetic damage." This is damage that does not affect the function of the home.
Cosmetic versus functional damage is a gray area. Read your policy and talk to your insurance agent, especially if you live in hail-prone areas like Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, or Colorado. Homeowners can purchase separate hail and wind damage insurance.
The cost of earthquake insurance is determined by several factors:
- Location of the house
- Materials used in its construction
- The way it is constructed
- The integrity of its foundation
- Number of stories or levels
- Home's insured value
- Policyholder's chosen level of coverage
Even if you live in an area not known for seismic (earthquake) activity, you may still have the option of purchasing supplemental earthquake insurance. For example, earthquake insurance is inexpensive for Missouri homeowners, even though the state sits on the little-known but potentially devastating New Madrid fault line.
Even if you live in Kansas, your homeowners' insurance policy probably covers damage from a volcanic eruption. Standard policies cover damage related to ash, dust, particulate matter, lava flow, and the initial removal of these materials.
Volcano insurance does not cover damage from:
- Shock waves
- Ash deposited later (such as from the wind)
Homeowners living near active volcanoes, including Hawaii and parts of Washington State, may purchase additional coverage specifically for volcanic disasters.
Damage from lightning strikes is covered by most standard homeowners' insurance policies. It will cover damage to property such as wiring, appliances, and electronics. It will cover fires started by lightning. If a tree is struck by lightning and falls on your home, it's covered. What may not be covered is damage from an electrical surge when lightning strikes an area. That's why people buy surge protectors for their electronic devices. If electronics or appliances are damaged, then equipment breakdown coverage can cover replacement.
Wildfires are covered by most insurance policies the same as any other fire. The homeowner is covered for losses caused by both smoke and fire damage.
However, homeowners in California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana are facing a new challenge. Given the increasing devastation of wildfires in Western states, some insurers are no longer offering homeowners' insurance in those areas.
California has responded to this problem by creating the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan. The FAIR plan provides coverage for homes in high-risk areas. Coverage is more expensive, policy limits are lower, and plans generally don't cover personal property or replacement costs.
Homeowners may find a regular or specialty insurance company that covers their high-risk area. Premiums will be higher and there be specific eligibility requirements.
Landslides and mudslides can occur anywhere but people living in the Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific coastal states of California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska are most at risk.
Neither a landslide, a mudslide, or a mudflow are covered by standard homeowners' insurance. If you live in a high-risk area, you can purchase a stand-alone policy called a "difference in condition" (DIC) policy. It will pay for your home to be rebuilt to its original condition if damaged or destroyed.
DIC policies are more expensive and aren't sold by most insurance companies. The homeowner may need to find a "surplus-lines" insurer, a firm that sells high-risk policies.
Mudflows are a bit different. They contain more water and may be covered under a separate flood insurance policy.
Some geographic areas are highly vulnerable to sinkholes. The kind of rock below the surface of the land can naturally dissolve with water. A cavern then grows beneath the surface until one day it breaks through, causing everything above ground to fall into it. They can also form as groundwater is withdrawn and not replaced.
Areas of the country most prone to sinkholes include Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.
Homeowners can purchase two different kinds of specialty insurance coverage for sinkhole damage:
- The most comprehensive is catastrophic ground collapse coverage. This coverage protects you if your home falls into a sinkhole or if the foundation of your home is damaged beyond repair.
- Sinkhole loss coverage is more limited. It covers repairs to the stability of a building and repairs to the foundation, but typically not contents or living expenses. Some policies cover man-made sinkholes but may not cover naturally occurring sinkholes. Be sure to read the policy.
Choose Your Policy Carefully and Call an Attorney if a Problem Arises
Once a natural disaster hits, your insurance should help fix your home. If you have the right coverage, but the company claims you don't, an attorney can review your policy. Working with a lawyer experienced in "bad faith insurance" claims ensures your insurance company covers what you paid for and that you are not denied help.
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